A Letter from the Woodbridge School for Boys, 1832

So. Hadley Ms
September 7th									 10

Master Edward Wells
Care James H. Wells

					 South Hadley, September 6th, 1832
Dear cousin Edward

I received your letter with much pleasure dated the 4th and received on 6th of September I could not hardly stop flying my kite to read it but waited till I got into school and then I read it with much pleasure. I thought that I should bring home some squirrels but when mother came she told me that she thought that I had not better bring them home as they do not pour forth much fragrance to the smell. But I am going to bring home some flying squirrels which are much handsomer than those that I was going to bring. I have made a cage to keep them in until I get home. I guess that I will give two to you and keep two my self which I expect to bring up here with me next term they’re not much bigger than a mouse but they are as much more beautiful as you can imagine.   I have learnt more this term in this school than in any other school that I have been to. I am (turn over) now in algebra. I have been to Mythology in Latin speak and write composition alternately every Saturday morning we have two or three public exhibitions during the term then every body may come that has a mind to there is a going to be one tomorrow evening. As you wish me to tell you some of the boys names that go here or I will gratify you. M Bull, C Whiting, W W Hudson, A Woodbridge, R. Hudson. The teachers are Mr. B Gould (?) And D R Austin prin George Hale, Sam Austin, Engrham (?) Shakespeare this term will be out in three weeks or the last Wednesday in September Thursday evening you may expect me. we have a very pretty little pony to ride. it is my turn to ride today. we generally go about a mile at a ride. there are about 36 scholars in the school. I don’t think that I shall be able to write as long a letter as you have you must excuse me as I have but little time to write. I ever remain
Your most 
A Watkinson

This charming letter, in the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, was undoubtedly written by Alfred Watkinson.  He was 14 years old at the time.

        Sophie Eastman tells us “In Old South Hadley” (1912) about the
Woodbridge School:, located in Sycamores, the former home of Ruggles Woodbridge:

    “The pupils were obliged to dress in uniform, and on Sunday, march two and two into church with military precision. Every Sabbath morning they had a Bible lesson at home, and every day at the close of school each boy recited a verse of scripture.
     Most of the pupils came from old and aristocratic families. They wore tall hats, which gave great offense to the town boys, and there were frequent collisions in which fists were freely used….
     A long list might be given of the governors and other leading man of Massachusetts, who were educated in this school, which ranked high in his intellectual as well at this moral influence.”

 The “Woodbridge School for Boys” met with such success that one addition after another was made to Sycamores, “till people said that if it had more wings it would be able to fly”  (Sophie Eastman).  It was noteworthy during the period 1827 to 1834.
Alfred was the son of Edward Watkinson, who along with his brothers David and William were extremely successful businessmen in Hartford.  They ran a general wholesale business, and were active in banking, insurance, and transportation projects.  They were involved in the founding of Trinity College, Watkinson School, the Watkinson Library at Trinity, the Wadsworth Atheneum, the Hartford Hospital, the predecessor of the Hartford Public Library, and the American School for the Deaf (with Rev. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet of Hartford).
Cousin Edward Wells was the son of James Hancock Wells, the founder, along with Edward Watkinson and seven others, of the Hartford Unitarian Association in 1830.  In 1839 James and John Wells built a small paper mill, but it was not successful.
        I have possessed a copy of this letter for a number of years, but only recently have I been able, through Google, to identify the author and his cousin and their families.  Alfred spells well, but the almost total lack of punctuation and capitalization make this a bit of a challenge to read.  Please contact me if you know of any other graduates of the Woodbridge School for Boys, also known as the Woodbridge Scientific School and Woodbridge School.  I know nothing of the “long list...of the governors and other leading man of Massachusetts who were educated in this school....” mentioned by Sophie Eastman.
    Tuition at the Woodbridge School was $150 per year which included tuition, room rent, wood, lights and washing. At that time (1831) the tuition at Dartmouth was $101, Amherst $93-118, and Harvard $179.

                                                                                                           Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
    This portrait, Boy with a Squirrel, was painted by John Singleton Copey in 1765.  It depicts Copley’s half brother Henry Pelham at about age 11 with his pet squirrel, a flying squirrel just like the ones Alfred Watkinson proposes to bring home.  We can imagine Alfred in a similar sumptuous setting, seated at a mahogany table with a gold chain attached to his squirrel--a boy of privilege in a private school in South Hadley.

Ken Williamson 11/1/13


Weekend, May, 2014

A Brief History

Montagues at Sycamores

Joseph Brodsky

Brodsky Exhibit

The Sycamores Committee

Outline History of Sycamores and Rawson House
Mount Holyoke Alumnae of 

Sycamores Restoration 

Parlor Wallpaper

Wallpaper and Paint

Concealed Shoes

Rawson House

Water Tower
HABS, Historic American
Buildings Survey

Reflections from the House

Letter from Sycamores, 1832

Bark of the Tree